People with a panic disorder often describe a panic attack like a wave. It takes over your whole body and there’s nothing you can do about it. Fortunately, a variety of responses have been found over the years that can help deal with panic attacks. One of these techniques is mindfulness.
Another very important thing to remember is that most panic attacks last for 2-20 minutes, so your feelings are not going to be with you forever.
Below I’m giving you 4 different ways you can use mindfulness to ease a panic attack:
1. Don’t trust your feelings
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but when you’re in the throws of a panic attack your feelings are sabotaging you. Ask yourself whether what you are feeling is really true. Remember that your thoughts aren’t facts.
Take your thoughts with a large pinch of salt. Being embroiled in negative thought patterns often causes a panic attack to appear.
2. Make the best use of your senses
Try honing into each of your senses in turn. What can you hear right now? What is the loudest sound; which one is the quietest? What can you see? How many colours can you identify? Which shapes are in your surroundings? What can you smell? Is someone cooking and the aroma is drifting past your nose? Does someone near you wear aftershave or perfume? What other smells are there? What can you feel? Reach out with your hands and feel your clothing, whatever you’re sitting on, any surface you’re nearby? What feels soft, smooth, rough, sharp, etc.?
Maybe you can take a bite of something eat, be that a piece of fruit or a bite of your sandwich. What can you taste? Explore all the flavours in detail? Is it sweet, salty, bitter, sour? How does it feel like in your mouth? How does the texture change when you start to chew it?
By concentrating on your senses in the moment, you can create distance from your anxious and repetitive thoughts. It will help you to ground yourself into reality more quickly.
3. Focus on your breathing
Be aware of your breathing. Is it fast or slow? Can you see and feel your chest rising and falling? Can you feel your breath coming in and out of your mouth and/or your nose?
When concentrating on your breath for a while, your mind is most likely going to wander. Acknowledge this and bring your awareness gently back to the breath.
If your breathing is super-fast, you might want to try to gently slow it down a little bit. How many counts does it take to breathe in and out now? Try adding one more count, then another.
You might want to try focussing on your breathing when you’re in a calm state of mind. This will make it easier to do when you’re in a panicked state.
4. Visualise your panic floating away
Another technique to try is to picture soft fluffy clouds floating past. Picture yourself putting any negative thought onto one of the fluffy clouds and watch it float away. Some thoughts might be more persistent than others, simply pop them onto another cloud and wave them off again. Eventually your mind will be clear again and you can get on with your day.
This technique also works well if your mind is racing when you’re trying to go to sleep. Once you’ve put all your thoughts one by one onto the clouds and watched them float off into the distance, you can then gently nod off to sleep. You can combine this with writing things down, if you’re worried to forget important things by the morning.
The importance with all these exercises is to keep your mind non-judgmental. The practice of mindfulness is there to teach you to acknowledge any unpleasant thoughts without worry, blame or fear. This will allow them to pass more easily.
How the Live Well Practice can help
My name is Samantha Culshaw-Robinson and I am a mindfulness practitioner and hypnotherapist. Since 2010 I have helped many people with anxiety and panic disorders. If you’d like to find out how I can help you, why not get in touch. You can reach me via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 075 222 777 22.
Disclaimer: As with most practices, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any existing mental health conditions or past trauma, you should discuss these with your GP or mental health professional and these should also be disclosed prior to enrolling in a class.